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“The fact that you may honestly believe that you are not biased against African Americans, and that you may even have black friends or relatives, does not mean that you are free from unconscious bias. Implicit bias tests may still show that you hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to.”
Michelle Alexander, from The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
I am white and I’m going to talk about race. Stop reading now if you have a problem with that. I don’t like controversy; I hate offending people. And no self-hating shame drags me down further than remorse over a race-related gaffe or insensitivity. However, I am willing to admit that I carry unwanted racial bias. I usually blame it on growing up in the South, and the influence of my parents. My dad grew up in Atlanta, Georgia during the nineteen-forties and fifties, and my mother grew up a little farther north, in Virginia, but it wasn’t necessarily any less racist there. I certainly don’t consider myself a racist, far from it. But I’m not going to say I don’t carry any trace of racial bias and I think people who say this are not being honest with themselves.
I know people who still take pride in their southern heritage; they call anyone from north of Maryland a “Yankee.” Where I live, in the northeast, the “Yankees” are a baseball team. No surprise then that the southern states have the highest incarceration rates in the country. By incarceration rate I mean the number of black men who are locked up. Because in some states, 90% of the people put in prison for drug offenses are African American.
This is not meant to be an incendiary political post. My posts are often inspired by whatever I am reading, and I happen to be reading a book about men, black and brown, who are thrown into prison for minor drug offenses. For example, possession of a small amount of recreational weed or cocaine. White people, research shows, take more drugs than black people. But most white people don’t go to prison for it.
When white kids get caught with drugs on them—well, white kids don’t usually get caught. Because they don’t get stopped and frisked when they slink into 7-Eleven for a bottle of Fanta orange. Black kids the same age do get stopped. And searched. And arrested. They end up branded felons.
I’m not speaking from any self-righteous position here. I don’t work with kids in in the ghetto; I don’t do community service for men with felonies. I’m just a typical, self-centered white person who doesn’t have to worry about getting stopped and frisked on my way to the train station.
Now that I have read Michelle Alexander’s book, I know that a terrible thing is happening as a result of the “War on Drugs.” I kind of knew before, but now I really know. Alexander explains it all quite clearly—when the war started, why the war started, how the war is going, the lives it has destroyed.
In Washington, DC, “three out of every four black men can expect to spend some time behind bars.”
I can’t say anymore that I don’t know this. Neither can you.
(If you want to argue about this, please don’t do it here.
Do it here instead with someone who can straighten you out.)
dialogue on film clip is from “Imitation of Life,” directed by Douglas Sirk, 1959.